The Colorado Avalanche weren’t up for hearing about the positives they had this season or their potential for next season after they were eliminated with a 6-3 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on Thursday.
“I mean, there’s always next year. That’s all we talk about, I feel like,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “I mean, I’m going in my ninth year and I haven’t won [anything]. Definitely motivated, and it just [stinks] losing four in a row to a team.
“It felt like last year was our first real chance to win, and this year I thought we were the best team in the League. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get it together.”
The Avalanche (39-13-4) won the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the NHL by a tiebreaker over the Golden Knights and entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the overall No. 1 seed. But for the third consecutive season, Colorado was eliminated in the second round.
“It’s tough to find any (positives) because nobody wants to play just a good regular season and then lose in the second round,” Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen said. “I know all of us wanted to win, and that’s what we were pushing for. So right now it’s tough to find positives.”
The Avalanche won their first six straight games this postseason, a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the first round and the first two games against the Golden Knights.
When the Avalanche made a mistake, the Golden Knights capitalized. Goalie Philipp Grubauer also struggled in the second round with a 3.18 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. He had a 1.75 GAA and .936 save percentage against the Blues.
“Game 2 (a 3-2 overtime win) we got away with a win where I think they were the better team,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Game 3 especially, we didn’t play good at all (a 3-2 loss). Game 4 (a 5-1 loss), we really competed hard, but we made mistakes that they scored on. Game 5 (a 3-2 overtime loss) obviously we’re in control. Game 5 was a strong effort from us, then we make three turnovers and they score on all three of them.
“Tonight, I thought we fought real hard and battled and worked our [butts] off and kept coming back. But a couple of bounces go the wrong way and couple of shifts where we’re not really engaged or not really focused they capitalized on. I’m real proud of the group in there, I’m proud of the season we had. Obviously, you’re never really going to be satisfied, never going to be happy until you win that final game of the season. So, it stinks.”
Colorado had five winning streaks of at least five games, including a season-high seven-game streak from March 10-22, which began a stretch when they were 18-1-2. The Avalanche lost consecutive games in regulation three times.
They led the NHL in goals per game (3.52) and were third in goals against per game (2.36).
MacKinnon was voted a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, Cale Makar was voted a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman, and Grubauer was voted a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie.
But the Avalanche became the eighth straight team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and not win the Stanley Cup (the Chicago Blackhawks won both in 2012-13).
Colorado coach Jared Bednar said he understands if he is blamed for the Avalanche again falling short of their first championship since 2001.
“If people want to come at somebody, it’s me,” he said. “I live by a motto of extreme ownership, and I’m the one that’s running the team, so I take responsibility.
“What’s going through my head right now is just disappointment. You see the look on our guys’ faces, how much they want it, how much they care and how hard they’re working. To come up short, it just hurts. Guys put a long year into work and commitment and dedication to the team, and you don’t get to where you want to go, so it’s disappointing.”